Expressing Myself: When Creativity and Motherhood Collide

Hey! I’m over at Kindred Mom again today! Read on for part of the article or click here for the whole thing.

I finally did it.

I spent money on a journaling Bible and a few supplies. I’d been looking online at some various artistic Bible journaling, and it intrigued me. When the first baby came, I realized I no longer had time or space to dedicate to creating or the debris that accompanies it, so I packed up my scrapbooking supplies. The part of me that enjoys making pretty things has been more or less dormant ever since.

I added beauty to several Bible pages with passages that are meaningful to me as a way to linger and highlight them. I’m pleased with most of them and more confident in my ability to create there without doing something that feels like defacing Holy Scripture.

This time, I used the afternoon while my younger two napped to create something around one of my favorite passages. I prepped the page to prevent bleeding to the other side of the translucent sheet, traced some little flowers, sprayed some pigment, left it open on my dining room table to dry, and went on to another, more “productive” chore while I waited.

When I returned to finish it up, I realized somebody had already added some extra touches.

Somebody short.

Where did she find a Sharpie?!?

Click here to read the rest at Kindred Mom.

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the spiritual discipline of watching tv

“Ohmygosh, I’ve found the BEST parenting book!
“You read a book? When do you find time?!?
“I don’t know… I don’t watch TV, so that helps.”
“Ohhhh.”

Video is a weirdly difficult medium for me. I can read or I can listen, but video requires both eyes and ears, frequently at normal speed (unlike reading or podcasts, both of which I consume much faster).

I like feeling productive. Actually, it’s deeper and more sinister than that—I need to feel productive. I’ve long equated my value with my usefulness. Watching TV for fun makes me panic a little. It feels like I’m letting time slip by that I could use to make myself worthier. Reading is fine—I have a huge stack of books to be read and a list of ones I’ve finished, so reading helps move them from one list to the other, which feels productive. But TV? No.

It’s a lingering misunderstanding of the gospel, really: I believe (regardless of what I “know”) that my value depends on me.

I believe I can make myself more acceptable by doing more, and less by wasting time.

In reality, I was created in the image of God (same as you) and my value stems from my Creator. My productivity is useless to change my worth.

As I typed that last sentence, my gut reaction is Bummer! What a waste of my effort! This shows how deep the utility-as-worth mindset is ingrained. That my effort is unrelated to my value is actually great news.

So I started watching The Good Place with Andrew on Netflix. And it’s hard. It’s hard not to have a laptop or phone up handy do things (or feel like I’m doing things) while I watch, or at least have paper and pen handy so I can write down things to do later.

It’s weird—watching a show clearly counter to the gospel helps me remember it. (The whole premise is an afterlife in the “good place” or the “bad place” based on a complex points system based on works.) But sitting down to laugh at a hilarious show with my husband and be specifically unproductive helps me remember that my worth isn’t related to my utility. It’s fasting from checking off my list, and it’s hard in exactly the same way as fasting from food is hard. There’s the habitual and compulsive turning toward what I’m abstaining from (in this case, doing things), a difficult and frustrating denial of that urge, and a reluctant repentance to what I’ve chosen instead.

Some part of me that prizes the to-do list is irritatedly harping that I’m just justifying laziness by cloaking it in terms of discipline, but at least I’m writing about it, and that counts as productive. And that part may be right. But the “laziness” pointing me toward rest, sabbath, and the gospel, so I’m going with it.

How about you? Any quirky spiritual disciplines that point you to the gospel? Also, if you fight the productivity-equals-worth lie, I’d love to hear how.

my next (small) right thing

2018 left me feeling a little battered. I know we’re almost into the second quarter of 2019, but it’s taken some time to get my head around last year. I started 2018 with such high ambitions. I had aspirations for my body, for my writing, for my home life. But then adrenal fatigue happened and basically ate March through December. To be fair, a lot of great things happened in each of those areas, but none of them according to plan. So when I sat down in December of 2018 to fill out my 2019 Powersheets and create a bunch of shiny, happy goals, I felt grumpy and resentful. I know 2018 was full of good and glory, but I can’t see it when I look through the “planning” lens. So, rather than an adorably ambitious and earnest “word of the year,” I chose “small” out of necessity and rebellion.

I resolved to grow in small ways, committing to small acts of obedience, and, most of all, remembering how small I am beside the bigness of the One who made everything.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I dedicated the whole of 2019 to doing my next right thing. I’m living my regular life in the regular way, but with an eye toward what small act of obedience is the next right thing for me to do.

I’m trying to be mindful of the mundane stuff that my life is made of right now, learning to enjoy the liturgy of laundry and dishes, homeschool and play, editorial calendars and writing dates. There’s no glamor here, just a boring and imperfect Jesus-follower, wife, mom, writer doing her regular thing.

One thing consistently helping me as I decide my non-glamorous, regular steps is a podcast, conveniently named “The Next Right Thing,” which has been giving me fifteen minutes of calm and a practical step every Tuesday for the last year and a half. Even more helpful is that the host and a favorite writer of mine (Emily Freeman) created an online course which I got for free because I preordered her book. It’s helpful without being overwhelming. And, yeah. You read right—The Next Right Thing is now a book and it’s coming NEXT TUESDAY. I’ve read it and can tell you the material continues to help, even if you’ve already heard the audio. Also important: it’s not exactly the same. There’s overlap, but the book really is worth reading, even if you’re a weirdo fangirl who has listened to the whole podcast *cough* twice.

Actually, there are a whole lot of preorder bonuses if you buy it before release day…

So if that sounds good to you, you can order it on Amazon (or really wherever), then put your info (including order number) in here. (Just scroll down a little.) As of right now, it’s $13.51 on Amazon (or $9.99 on kindle) which is a heckuva deal for all of that, I think.

Anyway. I feel my post getting infomercial-ish and I’m not a fan of that, but I am a fan of this book and the accompanying goodies. It’s helped as I falter through this year of embracing my smallness and it might help you, too.

And if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Also, let me leave you with a quote that I’ve filtered decisions by since I first heard it.

mess and beauty

The retreat booklet read:

900P — Paint Prep (not stressful)

.

.

.

100P — SESSION/Paint (not stressful)

The “(not stressful)” was somewhat concerning, but at 9 Friday night, as we divided ourselves around six canvasses of various sizes, I tried to be obediently not stressed. The person who created the schedule for this women’s retreat is one of My People and I’m an obliger anyway, so I waited for instruction.

The plan was this: each table got a set of plastic cutlery, a spatula, a Styrofoam cup. Somebody would come to dump a blob of plaster mixed with water and glue on our canvas. We were to play with it and create texture.

Oh, also, each of the canvasses was to correspond to a particular character trait. (We got “unity.”)

My obliging nature goes only so far. My trust in my friend’s planning goes much farther, but still. When somebody glops runny goo onto a canvas in front of me and hands me a spatula and tells me to make unity with a handful of people previously unknown to me, I’m way outside of comfort. I concentrated on my breathing and playing with the corner of the canvas that was mine. (Yes, for unity, we sort of ended up each playing with our own segregated quarter of the canvas with our various tools. The irony was not lost on us.) The goo was fun, and at the end of prep, it actually looked pretty cool. Plus, with the swirl we added, somewhat communicated unity, so I held it together and even enjoyed myself.

The following afternoon, we gathered again around our now-textured canvases. We were handed three tubes of acrylic paint (red, dark red, red-orange at our table), a variety of paintbrushes, a cup of water, some paper towels and told to have fun. Again, I came in “not stressed” in compliance with instructions, but somewhere between the near-identical tubes of paint and the “have fun” my anxiety started rise.

Let me just spoil it for you: it was fine. And, once I got into it, fun.

And there was no way for it to not work out.

See, my friend delegated the art segments of the retreat to somebody with far more knowledge than I have. She knew she was working with a bunch of women who may or may not have any experience at all (many of whom are mothers who reflexively panic when goop and paint end up where they weren’t before) and prepared accordingly.

Something that felt weird and messy and stressful to me turned out to be lovely.

How often does this happen?

I have a bunch of seemingly random circumstances in front of me. I have no idea how they’re going to come together, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mess waiting to happen and I’m going to destroy this lovely blank canvas (of  a project or a day or a child or whatever I tend to put in the “blank canvas that I’m going to screw up” spot).

But as I listen to the One giving instructions and just do the thing He tells me to do, even if it’s a gooey mess, something lovely happens. The outcome depends less on me than it the One who designed the project. Yes, I’m involved. The end product looks different because I contributed, and I can be pleased with it. But the success is ultimately not mine—I’m just happy I get to be here.

Maybe next time, I can actually be not stressed.

how I quit struggling with my weight

Hey, friends! Once again, my piece is live on Kindred Mom. Click here to read the whole thing or read an excerpt below.

“Well, she’s a little heavier than I like to see for her length. Let’s talk about some strategies to handle this. Obesity is a serious health issue, so we want to nip it in the bud.”

I was present at this conversation, but I have no memory of it. I only know the bare details my mom told me, so this is conjecture. I was the pudgy “she” in question.

I was eight weeks old.

My mom, a first-timer at 28, took in the information Dr. Maples was giving. He had letters after his name. She had only been parenting for two months. Her gut said I was a baby and ought to be fed when I was hungry, but he had the experience to know. She did what I would have done in the same situation: she listened to the friendly, grandfatherly man in the white coat who treated hundreds of babies a year…

Read the rest here.

confessions of a high-maintenance mom

Hi! In a funny scheduling fluke, I ended up on Kindred  Mom with the last essay of January and the first essay of February. 

Double feature! 

You can read the whole piece here or continue on for an excerpt.


“So… dinner tomorrow. Any allergies? Restrictions? Strong preferences?”

“Nah. We’re pretty low-maintenance.”

I’ve had this conversation dozens of times over the years. In this case, we’d had this family over once, decided to make it a regular thing, and were about to head to their house for the first time. We both have relatively large families, but aside from sheer volume of food, all fourteen of us are easy enough to feed.

***

I’ve tried to be low-maintenance in as many areas as possible for as long as I can remember. It has its perks—I like being easy-to-get-along-with. It’s nice to be able to go with the flow, to be free of strong aversions. (Except scary movies. Hard pass.) But it has a shadow side, too. In the name of being low-maintenance, I’ve served others’ needs while completely ignoring my own.

Baby’s crying? I’ll go get her. No sense in you waking up when I’m gonna have to feed her anyway.

MAN, I’m hungry. Did I eat lunch? No, I don’t think so. Do six cold, half-eaten nuggets count?

Wow, it got late. But there are still chores to do. No biggie—I’ve been sleep-deprived since 2010. What’s one more hour folding laundry and washing dishes?

As I say it, I realize I sound like a martyr. I didn’t know, though. I thought I was being kind. Selfless. Serving. Those are good things, right? But I missed the growing resentment and the toll it was taking on my physical and mental health.

There were a lot of things I missed, actually… (read the rest here.)

free to quit

Hey, friends! I’m at Kindred Mom today, this time as a quitter. This is an excerpt. read the whole thing here. 


I am sweating. The not-so-tiny infant inside my enormous body and the church sanctuary with poor air handling combine to make me regret my choice to abandon my typical mom-bun and wear my long hair down. It’s sticking to my neck and face. More bothersome than the heat and my crazy hormones is the strain of parenting. I managed to herd them to the service on my own, but now I am in the very front row at church. This is where my mother-in-law sits. Because my husband is perpetually in the back at the soundboard, the prospect of extra grownup hands to wrangle my girls outweighs my general aversion to being in the front row. My 2- and 3-year-old girls are squirmy and whisper loudly at inappropriate times. They tap my hugely pregnant belly repeatedly and urgently, wanting to know why they can’t have crackers and juice (communion) for “snack” and when the music is coming so they can twirl with abandon in the aisle. My church is made largely of young families, so I’m not getting side-eye from fellow congregants; they seem mostly amused by my girls’ antics. I am not.

My church has Sunday School during the service, so they could go to class with kids their own age, have all kinds of noisy preschool fun, and eat raisins for snack instead of communion, but I don’t see any theological basis for dividing families for worship this way. I want my littles to feel like part of the larger church body. I want them to know what it looks like to worship with their family (well, with their mama, at any rate) and see Daddy serving as a sound guy. I want them to know how to sit quietly, scribbling on the children’s bulletins provided. There will be time later for interacting with their peers, but this is the time to lay a foundation for fellowship that will serve them for decades to come. I have visions of them sweetly scribbling away, munching on goldfish crackers, perhaps occasionally asking pertinent questions about the sermon in their best “library voices.” Visions that, despite my best effort every week for their entire lives, have remained unfulfilled.

***

That morning, I quit.

(read the rest here.)

ten favorite books of 2018

Hi! I don’t know about you, but I love “favorite books” posts. Also, I hate them, because my “books to read” pile is huge. Beyond that, my list of books to read that I don’t own is ridiculous. At any rate, I love getting other peoples’ favorites, so I try to share mine. 

It’s conveniently (accidentally) split evenly between fiction and nonfiction and they’re listed in no particular order, but if you’re in a hurry, scroll to the bottom because that’s where my favorite ended up.

Fiction

Til We Have Faces: a Myth Retold (CS Lewis)

I made a goal a couple years ago to read more books by dead people. Every time I say that, I feel the need to clarify: the authors in question were alive when the books are written but have died since. The proportion of old books I read is coincidentally reflected precisely in this list: 20%. 

Anyway, this was a gorgeously written adaptation of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which I wasn’t familiar with until I googled it halfway through the book. 

Artemis (Andy Weir)

This was a read-aloud for Andrew and me. SO FUN. Set on the moon with conspiracies, gangsters, and intrigue, this sci-fi was engaging, funny, and smart. Added bonus: the chapters are longer than they were in The Martian, which made it harder to “one more chapter” our way into the wee hours of the morning.

The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)

I love me some WWII fiction.

This was set in the presesnt day, but with vivid interviews with an old Nazi. The characters are, in typical Picoult style, quirky and well-developed. I hate to throw in a spoiler (mild as it may be) but I stopped reading her books for a long while because the endings were always devastating. This one didn’t leave me feeling completely crushed.

A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

Important: I pronounced his name wrong in my head the whole time. I said “love” minus the L. Evidently it’s “O-veh.”

Anyway. It took me a while to get into. Ove is a crotchety old guy bent on suicide, which isn’t usually the kind of premise I gravitate toward. But my friend Lindsey said it was one of her favorites and I trust her, so I plugged along. I’m so glad. His grouchiness becomes endearing and the community that materializes around and despite him is heartwarming.

America’s First Daughter (Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie)

I’m bad at history. I prefer math, where you can derive answers from principles or compute them from formulas. History always felt like a lot of memory work to me, which takes more effort for my brain, and I’m lazy. 

But my brain (much like your brain, I imagine) is wired for story, and when history becomes an engaging story, it all starts to make sense. Historical fiction does that for me. It contextualizes the names and dates so they actually mean something. This is the story of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy through America’s fight for independence, the White House, and into Thomas Jefferson’s retirement. Fascinating.

Nonfiction

Call the Midwife (Jennifer Worth)

I watched most of the TV series while this was still on my “to read” list, and that served me nicely: I didn’t have to make up the characters from scratch in my head. (The show is well-cast.) The stories are poignant and uplifting… except when they are utterly shattering.

The Broken Way (Ann Voskamp)

Oh, that Ann Voskamp… exploding my brain again. In One Thousand Gifts, she talked about how, in the ministry of Jesus, thanks preceded the miracle. This led me (and much of American Christian culture) to start a gratitude list. I’m almost to nine thousand. In this one, she points out how breaking frequently comes before miracle as well. Encouragement for this broken soul.

Fat and Faithful (J Nichole Morgan)

This confronted a lie I hadn’t examined: “since gluttony is a sin, fat is evidence of sin. Therefore, fat people are living in sin.” There are medical reasons this is BS (if you’re curious, check out Health at Every Size by Carol Bacon) but Morgan addresses the reasons this lie is so especially damaging within the Church.

In Defense of Sanity (GK Chesterton)

This is my second Chesterton (after The Man Who Was Thursday in 2017) and it’s delightful. It’s a collection of sixty-odd essays that vary widely in subject but every one of them is funny and quotable. You know the random party question, “If you could have dinner with any person, alive or dead, who would it be”? Chesterton has become my answer (assuming Jesus is off limits). I read one essay at a time (usually one per night) and always felt far smarter when I was done.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

This was easily my favorite book of the year, and hands-down my favorite parenting book ever. I liked it so much that upon finishing, I immediately purchased copies for each of my siblings and a few assorted others. It is simultaneously the least practical and most transformative parenting book I’ve ever read. I recommend it for three groups of people: parents, believers, and people who need Jesus. Pretty sure that catches everybody.

The thing about this book is the way it filters everything through the lens of the Gospel. I need that in my life. I’ve believed for most of my life that the Gospel was the starting point for Jesus-followers. I’m learning it’s the whole point.

So there it is. My favorite books of 2018. I’d love to hear yours!

Jenna turns 8 (and hits a MAJOR MILESTONE)

Hey, J.

You’re eight today. And this is where, especially with you, the oldest, and Lilly, the youngest, I get a little misty and sentimental about how fast time flies and stuff. And it does fly. And it takes me by surprise even though every single person from the generation before me  has told me how fast it goes. Seriously. Every one. And I’ll probably do the same someday, because it does. (Consider yourselves on notice, Millenials.)

Anyway. I could get sappy or I could give you tips from a version of you that is 28 years older, but today?

I need to celebrate a major milestone.

Last week, you asked if you could make something in the kitchen. You’re always asking if you can do that, and, when I pry into what you mean, it usually involves some bizarre concoction of melted chocolate, caramel, and food coloring. I always say no, because baking with small people makes me crazy, and nobody needs that.

But last week, and I don’t recall why, though it had to be a really good reason, I said yes.

Babe, you made lemon bars (from a box mix) and I didn’t do anything but verbally walk you through the steps. You cracked the eggs, you put the weird crust-powder in the pan, you put the pan in the oven and took it back out (which only caused a tiny heart attack for me every time) and… it was fine. I didn’t need hours alone in my room to recuperate from the chaos. I didn’t spend the whole rest of the day tamping down the urge to snap at all the people (with varying levels of effectiveness). It was… fine. The bars themselves were disappointing to us both, but I feel like that’s Krusteaz’s failing, not yours. They were beautiful and perfectly made. You did that.

I feel dumb writing this. There are moms who bake with their toddlers and love it, for crying out loud. And good for them. But baking with little people is simply not in my makeup.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

You, in that one afternoon last week, crossed from “little” to “not so little” and it astounded me. (Also, you used the word “astounded” this morning with a straight face and it cracked me up.)

You’re growing up just right, Jenna girl. We have our stuff, you and me. Part of us being so much the same is that you struggle in the same areas I do and that triggers all my crap, and I don’t always handle it well. But through all the mess of navigating how to raise a little me, you seem to be doing just fine.

I love you to pieces, not-so-little girl. I’m glad I get to be your mama.

not instagram’s fault

Hey, guys! I’m at Kindred Mom today! Here’s the first part, or you can read it in its entirety here.

It’s a(nother) wild morning at the Chapman house. The big two got up at the appointed hour, but I had a hard time falling asleep last night and a proportionately hard time getting out of bed this morning, so I started the day feeling a little behind as my 6- and 7-year-old chatter away happily and relentlessly. Just when it’s time to get the small two up, I hear a knock at the door.

Whoops! The home visit I thought was scheduled for tomorrow is actually today, and I meet the educator in my workout leggings with a very foul-smelling diaper in my hand. I greet her with the wild-eyed feigned enthusiasm of a mama desperately wishing she’d gotten up early enough for coffee. “HELLO! WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE!” I get a fresh diaper on the littlest and we start the appointment—definitely not tomorrow.

 

This woman is here because my youngest, at two, has lots of words but almost no consonants, so communication with her is a comical and frustrating guessing game that sounds like the Witch Doctor song: “oo ee oo ah ah.” By the time the speech intake is finished, my kids are done. I have given 45 minutes to this stranger, and they are tired of seeing my attention on anything but themselves. Four small people with big voices each demanding my immediate and undivided attention is a little more than this uncaffeinated and unfed mama can handle.

I do the obvious thing: open Instagram.

Ahhh. That’s better. Look at the happy toddler! The pretty flowers! The unicorn costume my friend is making for her preschooler! Well-lit snippets of other people’s lives float past me rapidly, allowing me to tune out the increasingly insistent voices of my children. It’s relaxing. For a second. Then the shrieking begins.


(Continue reading here…)